Steve McClaren may have lost Tim Krul to injury, but it seems he’s finally found a winning formula at Newcastle United.
Barring the Dutch goalkeeper, the Magpies manager was able to select a full strength line-up on Sunday, and while he welcomed back Paul Dummett, Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote, it was in the final third where his United stars clicked against Norwich City.
Gini Wijnaldum was the star of the show, bagging four in a 6-2 romp, but Moussa Sissoko also contributed three assists, with Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring too.
Sissoko’s performance was perhaps the most key, having previously toiled in a wide right role. Here, he shifted back and forth across the front-line, offering energy and a cutting edge so often lacking from his game. The France international still might have been at fault for both concessions, but few will complain about his defensive work if his attacking output is so dramatic every week.
Now, with Sunderland up next, McClaren must surely stick with this system. Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Perez and Mitrovic boast international class, combining pace with power, industry with artistry. At the Stadium of Light, where the home defence will be short of confidence, this quartet have the potential to wreak havoc.
In terms of the derby, Sunderland currently hold the upper hand, but “momentum” is a word McClaren has repeated in the past few weeks, and his side will be boosted by this maiden victory.
Where last season’s top two, Chelsea and Manchester City, had the quality to bounce back from Newcastle’s speedy starts, the winless Black Cats should prove a different prospect. If Sissoko and Wijnaldum fly out of the blocks, go for the hosts’ throats and take the ascendancy, United must show more resolve in this showpiece fixture.
Of course, Sunderland have conquered in similar circumstances before. In 2013, Gus Poyet celebrated the club’s first success of the season in his second game in charge – against Newcastle. Either side of him, Paolo Di Canio and Dick Advocaat have managed similar records, so the Magpies cannot let Sam Allardyce enjoy the same luxury.
The results in these matches are now beyond excuse, particularly given Sunday’s triumph. McClaren has the tools. Just win it.